Sunday, June 1

Great Places to Bird: Parker River Wildlife Refuge

crossposted to Birding New England
Located on Plum Island, MA, Parker River Wildlife Refuge is, by far, one of my favorite places to bird. It's not just that there's a huge variety of birds, but that it's very uncommon to find nothing of interest during a visit and so many of the regulars who bird there are willing to share their information readily with other birders.

Take, for example, this american woodcock on her nest:

I'm amazed that anyone was able to spot this American Woodcock nesting near the Hellcat Boardwalk, but the directions I got to track it down were very good.

There is no possible way I would have found this nest without help from a fellow birder (Nancy Landry, who has some very nice shots of all sorts of birds on the Island), who, a couple days after my photo was taken, got a photo of the mother woodcock with the hatched young right next to her.

After the fold I'll be presenting a photojournal of various birds I've seen at Parker River, along with some of my favorite experiences there.

Please note: almost every photograph here is a clickable link to larger versions of the same photo, with details that often include type of camera, type of lens, settings, etc.

Warblers and other small perching birds

Warblers, are by far, among the hardest birds to photograph in the wild. They range from small to teensy, and like to hang out in bushes and trees, which are often leafed out so as to render them virtually invisible. And yet, still, sometimes I get fortunate. Take for example, these two birds: a black-throated green warbler and a black-throated blue:

Black-throated green warbler.  Best picture I've ever taken of one.

This was the first day I was able ever to get decent photographs of a male black-throated blue warbler.  This was the best of the lot.

The first of these birds was easy. There was a flock of them hanging out in the trees overhead and I just kept taking photos and kept the best of the bunch. The second was an immense amount of work. There were several warblers on the boardwalk trail (near Goodno woods) bouncing all over the place. I was excited to see a black-throated blue, as I'd never gotten a good photo of a male before, but it kept itself behind branches, twigs, never allowing a clean shot of it. But, eventually, persistence paid off and it presented itself with a clean clear view.

Other small perching birds I've seen at the refuge include manypalm warblers, Ruby Crowned Kinglets, a blue-gray gnatcatcher and a savannah sparrow:

Palm Warbler
Ruby-crowned kinglet, one of the best photos I've ever taken of one.
Blue-gray gnatcatcher.This is an extremely small bird, and not even remotely easy to photograph.  I was only able to get three or four clean pictures of it, as it was jumping about through underbrush, but persistence paid off, as I now get to add a new life bird to my list.
I didn't think this was a Savannah Sparrow at first; the colors are much darker than I'm familiar with.  Having looked at Cornell's website, however, I'm convinced.

Duck-like birds

You get a wide variety of duck-like birds at the refuge. One of the best photos I ever got there was of these
brants, which are small, dark geese, fighting over a piece of seaweed:

Brants are a new bird for me, so imagine my surprise when I got to watch nearly fifty of them hang out right near shore.  My favorite picture of the bunch is this one, where several of them are fighting over a piece of seaweed one dug up.

Another favorite, however, was this very close sighting of a
Wilson's Phalarope:

Wilson's phalarope, 2nd day sighting.

Northern Pintails are, during migration season, plentiful on the refuge:

Pintails; taken from over 100' away.

But perhaps high on this list is this pied-billed grebe, which took me a few days of dedicated searching to find this close to shore:

I had just about given up on getting a high-quality photo of a pied-billed grebe when today I spotted one very close to shore.

Wading birds, big and small

Being on a migration path, the refuge can yield some really nice shorebirds of various sorts. Clicking on the photos will give you larger versions with info about the specific birds in the photos:

Angle of light makes a major difference. <br /><br />I already had good pictures of this bird by this point, but when it moved to a new position, I found I could get myself between it and the sun.  Having the sun behind you and the subject in front is generally the very best scenario for photographing birds.  This especially applies to birds that are primarily white.
I was taking pictures of this white-rumped sandpiper as it was flying by, not realizing I'd capture a whole field of pipers in the background as well.  In the background are semipalmated plovers, white-rumped sandpipers, least sandpipers and semipalmated sandpipers.
Snowy egret congregation w/greater yellowlegs.

And finally, this whimbrel:

I'd only ever seen a whimbrel before from a great distance away, and the only pictures I'd had of one were of relatively poor quality.  So imagine my surprise when we discovered one hidden amongst some geese today.  Not only did it keep getting closer, allowing me to get progressively better shots, but after a short time, four other whimbrels came in to join it.

And to conclude, a mimic

This Brown Thrasher was making all sorts of noise, but it took me some time to track it down. I finally set the camera on auto-focus and managed to get it properly set up, but it took real work:

Brown thrasher, hidden in the underbrush.  This was not an easy shot.

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